A little light reading

When you give up your office job, as I have, you expect somehow to be restored to miraculous vigor and to have enough energy simultaneously to prune the garden and decorate the house. This doesn't happen. The removal of the routine of work, you will find, also removes the routine of rest.
"I'm not doing anything," you think, "so why am I always so knackered?" It's because you are probably pottering around non-stop, and pottering - particularly if it involves unpacking and putting away, and the installation of various lights/curtains/bookshelves/bits of furniture - can be very tiring if you are doing it all day long.
You need to establish a new timetable with clearly marked breaks, where you sit down with a book or watch Judge Judy or just stare into space. My own preference is to sit down with a book, because much as I love Judge Judy, I feel guilty about watching daytime television. In any case, daytime television does not, in my opinion, include enough Judge Judy, but includes far too many programmes such as Bridezillas, which involve very silly people making a great deal of noise. (As you can see, I have done my research.)
On the other hand, I've never felt guilty about burying my nose in some volume or other - I got over that by the time I was seven and had mastered the art of reading a book, undetected, under my desk at school.
There is plenty of reading matter for the novice country dweller, but I was given two books which turned out to be rather different from my expectations. VP gave me a copy of Mike Dilger's book, My Garden and Other Animals, illustrated by his partner, Christina Holvey, and my mother gave me a copy of Roger Scruton's News From Somewhere.
Dilger is an ecologist and television presenter, and his book describes how he and his partner adapted to country life after moving to their first house with a garden. It's set in Somerset, near Bristol, which is where the BBC's Natural History Unit is based. Scruton is a philosopher and author, and lives in rural Wiltshire.
The title of Dilger's book is a light-hearted play on Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, while Scruton's title is a rather loaded reference to William Morris's News From Nowhere.
Morris's "preposterous" book, says Scruton, envisaged an "English countryside purged of real people, inoculated against religion, and sprinkled all over with a kind of medieval star-dust" and it was while hunting near Kelmscott, Morris's home in Gloucestershire, that Scruton apparently decided to move to the country, bringing with him "a library, three pianos and four horses".
Scruton is a famous proponent of hunting - indeed, he describes how he fell in love with his wife after seeing her "poised aloft in the Beaufort colours". (The Duke of Beaufort's Hunt dress is dark blue and buff, while the huntsman and the whippers-in wear dark green, not the usual hunting pink (ie red) coats. Still with me? Good).
I didn't expect to be impressed by Dilger's writing style, which was just as well, because his prose is peppered with hanging clauses and dangling modifiers. I think - I hope - this is a televisual habit, which demands that the subject of each sentence comes at the end rather than at the beginning in order to keep the viewer's interest piqued.
For example, instead of saying: "X and I started work on the pond while Christina weeded the new border", or even "Christina weeded the new border while X and I started work on the pond", he says: "With Christina weeding the new border, X and I got to work on the pond." Almost every single sentence is constructed like this.
You'll probably think I'm being extremely pompous when I say I found this incredibly irritating. Perhaps I am, but then I'm used to editing copy, and I found my fingers itching for a blue pencil with which to amend his grammar.
I was prepared to forgive him, however, because this is a fascinating account - by someone who really knows their subject - of observing wildlife in an English garden. Dilger has access, thanks to his background as a TV wildlife presenter, to all sorts of kit which enables him to track bats, film animal activity or record birdsong.
The results are described to the reader with such passionate enthusiasm that you almost find yourself whooping along with him as he ticks off another species that is new to the garden.
I turned to Professor Scruton's measured prose in the expectation of finding some respite from Dilger's misuse of English, so I was rather astonished to find a spelling error in the first sentence. (He refers to "presumptious" Icarus, rather than "presumptuous".) By page 6, I'd found another one! ("I meakly [sic] conceded.") And there are others - a neighbour is described as "cussid" (surely cussed?).
The professor appears to fare no better in German - "Man ist was er isst" he writes on page 106. Does he mean "Mann [Ger] ist was er isst"? Does he mean Man [Eng] "ist was er isst". Or does he mean, to quote Feuerbach more accurately, "der Mensch ist, was er isst"?
What is it with publishers these days? Can't they afford proof-readers or copy editors?
Luckily, there is the occasional philosophical joke - the sort of thing that would elicit wheezy chuckles at High Table - to distract the reader from the errors. At one point Scruton says that while his long-suffering neighbour Stephen is a farmer, he, Scruton is a meta farmer. "That means, I would have gone on to say, had we both belonged to the frivolous world of the university, that we are both of us farming only my farming is meta than yours." LMAO, Rog.
Dilger's book effervesces with detail eagerly inscribed, while Scruton's account is more sedate, like a shaft of sunlight through a dusty library window. Yet they are both, in their way, a hymn of praise to the life of the English countryside, whether it is Scruton on the subject of Vaughan Williams and the Anglican hymnal, or Dilger on soprano pipistrelles.
I was going to restrict this post to these two books, but a couple of  days ago, I took delivery of In A Gloucestershire Garden by Canon Henry Nicholson Ellacombe, which had been recommended to me by the wise and wonderful Carol at May Dreams Gardens. I won't bore you with yet another review; I'll just say: "Thanks, Carol, it's fab!"


  1. I'm no editor, but I was itching for a blue pen too - forgive me for not saying at the time, but I wanted you to form your own opinion. I kept on saying to myself - Where's the editor?, Get on with it! Ooh that's clunky - I believe the book was rushed to publication.

    However, Mike Dilger does talk most enthusiastically about his subject, so it's a book to get people fired up about gardening for wildlife. Chris Baines' book is the one to tell you how to do it.

  2. Hi VP! Yes, there were moments when he'd introduce a friend and he'd give them such a big build-up (what we used to call a roll of drums on the Indy) that by the time he'd told you their name, you'd forgotten what he was talking about. But as you say, his enthusiasm and knowledge makes up for a hell of a lot.
    I must get Chris Baines's book. Is it How To Make A Wildlife Garden?

  3. Oh no Victoria, noooooooooo... You can't become addicted to Judge Judy. Oldmasock started watching when her and Pa Sock used to tour America a lot. Now she is obsessed with it and gets really upset if its not on. She must have seen every case about 5 times.

    I hope you have a lovely Christmas in your new home. and you are right about pottering, it is very time consuming and quite exhausting!

  4. Maybe you should take up freelance editing to supplement the garden writing - it would give you an excuse to weild your red pencil as well.

  5. Hi Victoria, I'm pleased you are enjoying Ellacombe's book. It's a change from "modern gardening writing" but has a charm to it. I'm also reading it this winter.

    And Judge Judy? Is that the same Jude Judy who is on here in the US? And here I sit watching BBC America because I think British programs are better!

  6. O, I remember Ellacombe - one of the first garden books I read. Am hoping I can borrow the Scruton - it's not on Kindle and I'm trying to stem the tide of books flooding through our doors..

    Hope you have a wonderfully happy new year in your new home.

  7. Denise Keir 28 December 2012 I enjoyed your reviewette - I think 'presumptious' Icarus is a quote from somewhere else - I love your silver birch which I admired by moonlight yesterday - I wish I had had the time to walk about and capture some Samuel Palmerish views of Awkward Hill - he would have loved it. Oh well! next time but I haven't seen such brilliant moonlight for ages. Thank you for a lovely time.

  8. Just showed this to my wife. She is most of the way through the first draft of her first book. She is now panicking that the publishers will have similar issues with her grammar


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